The Role of Alpha Lipoic Acid

MattAge Management, Anti-Aging, AntioxidantsLeave a Comment

hand held out in front of older woman

It’s likely that you’ve heard of alpha-lipoic acid over the past several years. This compound has gained a lot of attention in the health and wellness space due to its potential benefits for weight loss, heart disease, memory loss, and diabetes management.

But have you heard about the role of alpha-lipoic acid in aging as well? 

Let’s explore what this amazing molecule does in the body and the health benefits that it can provide for you.

The Role of Alpha-Lipoic Acid

Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is an organic compound that is made in your body. It is found in all of your cells and acts as a powerful antioxidant. It is quite possibly the most powerful antioxidant in your body. It also has the ability to regenerate other antioxidants, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, glutathione, and Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10).

ALA can be found within the mitochondria of your cells, energizing them. It helps to break down glucose for energy. It is an essential compound for healthy digestion and absorption of the nutrients you eat.

Although your body produces ALA naturally, it makes only a very small amount. You can boost the levels of this molecule in your body by taking it in through food in your diet or via supplements.

Its powerful antioxidant effect helps fight oxidation in your cells by neutralizing free radicals. This effect on reducing the damage free radicals have on our cells is so profound that researchers coined the term ‘The Free Radial Theory of Aging’, one of the main theories on why we age.

A quick note: alpha-lipoic acid is not the same molecule as alpha-linolenic acid, which is an omega-3 fatty acid. They are often both shortened to ALA, so it can get confusing, but we’re talking about the former in this article!

What is the Free Radical Theory of Aging?

There are many different theories of how and why we age. The Free Radical Theory of Aging, first proposed by Denham Harman in the 1950s, is just one of them. It suggests that the cause of aging is the slow accumulation of oxidative damage the to cells in your body over time. While probably not the only valid theory, there is strong evidence to suggest it is at least a significant player in the aging process and therefore warrants discussion in any anti-aging, age management, or hormonal optimization program.

Originally, it was thought that the only free radical of concern was the superoxide free radical (O2-) but the theory now includes other reactive oxygen species (ROS), such as hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and peroxynitrite (OONO-).

Since the theory was first proposed, it has also now expanded to emphasize the role of mitochondrial DNA (MDNA) damage. It’s thought that this damage, caused by mutations and deletions in your MDNA, contributes to decreased mitochondrial function and, therefore, increased aging of the cells. 

Free radicals are molecules that have an unpaired electron. Without going too much into the chemistry behind why this can be dangerous, this unpaired electron wants to find a partner! The free radical attacks the cells to try and pair up its single electron.

This pairing process can cause a lot of damage to your DNA or other cellular proteins, causing them to mutate or become dysfunctional.

During normal everyday metabolic processes, oxygen-free radicals and other ROS are produced. Free radicals and ROS can also be formed because of exposure to exogenous sources, such as inflammatory foods, X-ray exposure, inflammatory drugs, carcinogens in the environment, or air pollutants.

In short, the Free Radical Theory of Aging states that humans (and other organisms) age because cells accumulate free radical damage over time. Free Radicals are nasty little byproducts of chemical reactions using oxygen in the body. They are deficient in energy so they “steal” energy from other cells, damaging them in the process. As cells, and more specifically cellular DNA, are damaged, your body functions less efficiently and robustly, and aging speeds up.

Here’s where antioxidants come in. Your body uses antioxidants to neutralize the damaging free radicals and render them harmless. So the more antioxidant activity you have in your body, the less free radicals can damage cells, tissues, and organs, lower immunity, and cause you to age at an accelerated rate. This is true for your skin, heart, muscles, sex organs, and brain. So, the quality, and quantity, of your body’s antioxidants are of extreme importance in order for you to fight the accelerated aging caused by free radical damage.

Studies show that increasing the number of antioxidants in rodent and animal models can slow down the aging process. However, it’s likely that aging is multifactorial and cannot be boiled down to just one factor. Free radicals are probably one part of a larger aging equation…but a significant one.

What is Alpha-Lipoic Acid Used For in the Body?

When the DNA is damaged, it can result in accelerated aging by decreasing the cell’s normal functions. To counteract these free radicals and ROS, the body has developed natural defense mechanisms. One of these mechanisms is antioxidant production.

Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) is regarded by many scientists as the most powerful antioxidant known. Originally considered a vitamin, researchers later discovered that the body is able to synthesize limited amounts of ALA from other nutrients. It was discovered in 1951 by Dr. Lester Reed and his colleagues at the University of Texas. 

Alpha-lipoic acid is the most versatile antioxidant known, mainly because it is both water AND fat-soluble. This means it can make its way to tissues that are mainly fat (like brain and nervous system cells) as well as those tissues that are mainly water (heart, muscles, skin). So alpha-lipoic acid is doing its job of being a free radical scavenger in basically every system in your body, granted that you have enough of it.

In addition to the specific benefits above, there are clinical studies suggesting that alpha-lipoic acid is a powerful ‘potentiator’ – an antioxidant that helps the body better use many other valuable proteins, hormones, vitamins, and nutrients. Among those beneficial nutrients that ALA seems to enhance are insulin (a critical  hormone), creatine (an energy metabolizer), vitamins C and E, and all the B vitamins, including folic acid.

Most antioxidants (for example vitamins C and E) are used up as they neutralize free radicals. But research suggests that alpha-lipoic acid has the unique ability to regenerate these other antioxidants and make them useful again!

What Are the Health Benefits of Alpha-Lipoic Acid?

Aside from its role in anti-aging, ALA has several incredible health benefits. Here are some of the things that ALA can be used for:

Weight Loss

ALA may promote weight loss by reducing the activity of an enzyme found in the brain known as AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK). This enzyme gets activated when the levels of energy in the body are low and stimulates feelings of hunger.

By reducing AMPK activation, it can reduce appetite and may help the body to burn through more calories.

Management of Diabetes, Pre-Diabetes, and Sugar Metabolism

Diabetes is a condition where the body either does not make insulin or does not respond to the insulin it produces. As a results, glucose (or blood sugar) builds up in your bloodstream. It’s a condition that affects millions of people worldwide and causes a number of associated health problems. 

ALA has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels in both animal and human models, which may help to manage diabetes.

It’s thought to reduce insulin resistance in those with diabetes and prediabetes by removing fat that has accumulated in muscle fibers, helping to lower blood glucose concentrations.

When this fat builds up, it can block insulin from acting on the muscle cells. In turn, the muscle fibers can’t take up as much glucose as usual and the blood sugar levels remain high.

ALA can also promote healthy nerve function, which may reduce the risk of diabetic neuropathy, a painful nerve condition often seen in those with uncontrolled diabetes.

Reduced Memory Loss

Memory loss is a common effect of aging and it’s likely that the accumulation of oxidative damage plays a key role in this process.

The effects of ALA supplementation have been studied in those with Alzheimer’s disease, a disorder often associated with progressive, severe memory loss. Studies indicate that ALA can slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by removing free radicals and reducing inflammation in the brain cells. However, more research is required to confirm these findings.

Cancer Prevention

ALA may also prevent cancer, according to many preliminary studies. Since antioxidants prevent the growth of abnormal body tissues, scientists reason that alpha-lipoic acid is likely to have far-reaching possibilities as a cancer preventative.

Prevents Cataracts

ALA prevents the formation of cataracts in animals, and may do the same in humans. This is because alpha-lipoic acid enhances the potency of vitamins C and E, both of which protect eye health, it gives the body an extra boost in protecting the eye against damage from ultraviolet rays.

Does Alpha-Lipoic Acid Help Healthy Aging?

Every day, as your metabolism ticks over and you are exposed to small amounts of toxins and pollutants in your environment, oxygen-free radicals and other ROS are produced in your cells.

Environmental toxins and pollutants damage your cells by creating free radicals, whether this damage occurs in the nuclear DNA, mitochondrial DNA, or on cellular proteins. These poisons wreak havoc on your cells. Accumulation of damage over time can result in your cells no longer functioning properly, and this can accelerate cellular aging.

By neutralizing some of these free radicals in your cells, we can effectively slow down the aging process. And the way these nasty molecules are removed is with antioxidants, including ALA.

Since ALA can remove potentially damaging free radicals and other ROS from your cells, it can prevent or slow oxidative damage from occurring. In turn, the aging process can be slowed down.

Additionally, ALA can help to regenerate glutathione, another powerful antioxidant involved in the protection of cells from damage. So it can further reduce the signs of aging.

How to Get Alpha-Lipoic Acid

As mentioned above, the body naturally produces ALA, but if you want the best chances of slowing down aging, you can eat more ALA-containing foods or take supplements. 

Lots of plant foods are abundant in ALA, including broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, and tomatoes. It can also be found in organ meats and yeast (such as Brewer’s yeast). Including these in your diet can help to increase your cellular ALA. 

Supplements can contain thousands of times more ALA than these foods, so they can significantly boost the concentration of ALA in your body.

Generally, a dose of 300-600 mg seems to be effective without causing any significant side effects. But note that there are factors that can affect the safest dosage for each person, so always be sure to check in with a professional before taking any ALA supplements. Also, there are many bad products on the market since supplements can be poorly regulated, so be sure to ask your doctor to recommend a pharmaceutical grade product. 

There are also beauty products and cosmetics that may provide some of the anti-aging effects of ALA. Some studies have found that applying a cream that contains ALA to the skin has the potential to reduce wrinkles and fine lines, and may help to smooth the skin.

Since there is not adequate research done on babies and pregnant women on the potential side effects of supplementing with ALA, it is not recommended to those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Studies have not been completed regarding the effects of ALA in children, so it is not recommended for use in pediatrics.

Make sure to check with a healthcare provider before starting an ALA supplement. If you need some more information regarding the safe dosage of ALA and whether ALA supplementation is appropriate for you, get in touch with the team here at The Carragher Method. We can talk you through everything you need to know to help you  feel your best today as well as slow down aging and feel as youthful as ever!

If you are interested in a full hormonal evaluation and consultation please call us at 323-874-9355 or email us at info@carraghermethod.com.

Leave a Reply